New Rules on Migrant Child, Family Detentions Expected

Andrew Cummings
August 21, 2019

The agreement is generally interpreted as meaning families must be released within 20 days.

Although there was a massive dip in illegal border crossing during Trump's first year in the White House, the frequency spiked in late 2018, and border agents and officials lamented they were not prepared for the influx, leading to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at many detention facilities.

Homeland security officials believe that time limits on the detentions of migrant families has driven the surge of Central American families crossing the border into the USA this year. DHS officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Since the USA law permits people to cross the border to seek asylum, handling undocumented immigrants along the southern border has been a major headache for Trump administration.

Legal challenges have held up many of Trump's initiatives, but immigration advocates say he has managed to build an "invisible wall" through executive actions bypassing Congress.

The Trump administration is expected to announce as early as Wednesday new rules that would allow for the longer term detention of families traveling with children across the U.S. -Mexico border, according to two government officials familiar with the plan. Officials said the families would receive mental health treatment and other services.

President Donald Trump and Republicans have repeatedly blamed the 20-day limit for encouraging undocumented migrants from arriving at the border with children, expecting to be released.

Administration officials blame the Flores settlement for a spike in immigration, saying it encourages migrants to bring children with them so they can be released into the United States while their court cases are pending, a process that can take years due in part to the number of immigration judges.

The regulation replaces a long-standing court agreement that restricted how long the government could hold migrant children - a decision that is bound to spark a new court fight about immigrants' rights.

"Today, the government has issued a critical rule that will permit the Department of Homeland Security to appropriately hold families together and improve the integrity of the immigration system", said Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the department, in a statement.

McAleenan said the rule is meant to reduce the number of families trying to enter the US.

The administration claims new rules are necessary given the "statutory and operational changes" since the original agreement, such as increased numbers of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border. "Or, as one gentleman in Guatemala told me, 'as a passport to the United States'".

McAleenan said the new policy would take effect 60 days after it is published on Friday, and would deter what he called a "catch and release" loophole in which families are arrested and quickly released into the United States while their cases are adjudicated.

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